German visual artist and graphic designer Ilka Helmig is in Utrecht for Dutch Design Double. Her work makes fictitious realities out of the everyday forgotten details of life.
A new exhibition of Ilka Helmig’s latest work consisting of three-dimensional sculptures and installations made from everyday materials opens at the Toonkamer in Utrecht next week.
Sometimes art is about ideas, but often it is about observations. Helmig hails from the latter camp and has a fascinating way of interpreting details in the world around her. So unexpected are her observations that if she repackages what we see according to what she sees, the narrative ends up completely cut off from reality.
Using illustration, photography and everyday objects, Helmig’s work is about creating new and unexpected stories. “My main focus is usually on those things that people just take for granted or never really notice,” she says. “From there I create new characters or images.”
Helmig might take, for example, a simple domestic scene like a bedroom strewn with clothes in the evening and use the textures and layering to create the basis of a canvas. “For the bedroom I took photographs of clothes and then composed the scene to look more like a huge baroque painting,” she says.
In one self-portrait she photographs herself with items from the house wrapped around her head. “I start to look like something from the Taliban or perhaps something that disturbs the viewer without them quite knowing why,” she says. “I like to create an image that people don’t understand directly.”
From a design perspective one might describe Helmig’s work as injecting life into designed and inanimate objects. “I offer a poetic representation of what is already there,” she says.
But it is also by ignoring the design manifesto that Helmig manages to come up with such an unexpected interpretation of the materials and gadgets that surround us. “I like to stay ill-informed about the design and production process,” she says. “In that way I can have a clearer view of the surface of things.”
And it is the surface rather than the meaning that informs her work. “This isn’t post-modern,” Helmig says. “It is more like post post post modern. Post-modernists are concerned with existential things, which are of no interest to me. I am not interested in feelings, but in my surroundings. It’s just that the way I see things is very precise, very concentrated. There are always details in a scene that if you are sensitive enough, you can notice.”
Ilka Helmig’s latest exhibition at the Toonkamer runs from 5 to 26 September
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